How to survive school shooting?

It’s terrifying to think about your child ending up in a situation like the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, or the recent fatal playground attack at Townville Elementary in South Carolina. But experts say not only should you think about it — you should plan for it.

Sadly, we’re living in a new normal, where mass shootings are in the news regularly. Caitlin Durkovich, assistant secretary for infrastructure protection at the Department of Homeland Security, says she’s seen an uptick in educational institutions wanting to prepare for “the eventuality” of a mass shooting. In her opinion, training for one is no less important than regular fire and tornado drills.

“As we’ve learned, nowhere is immune to this,” says Durkovich. The good news, she says, is that there’s already proof that drills can save lives. So, we asked Durkovich and other experts to share what they know with you. Get ready to take notes:

1. Teach your kids this mantra: run, hide, fight.

“The idea is to provide basic, easy-to-remember actions in the event that people find themselves in an active shooter incident,” says Durkovich. “Run, which means evacuate. Hide means find shelter. And in the worst-case scenario, if you have to fight, fight to save your life.” (Think of it as “stop, drop and roll” for a different kind of emergency.) But, she is quick to point out, the steps are not necessarily intended to be done in order. Instead, which to take depends on your environment. “You can’t always find an escape route, so it may require that you find a hiding place that is out of the visibility of the shooter,” she says.

Megan Tatem

2. Here’s another one: If you see something, say something.

“As we go about our daily lives, the biggest mistake is not being aware enough of our surroundings to notice what might be out of the ordinary or not normal,” says Durkovich.”It’s reporting suspicious activity if something does seem out of place rather than going into that facility.” Also good to note: Tell your kids not to open locked emergency doors, no matter how nice the person asking to get in may seem.

3. Make sure your kid understands school protocol.

Tonya Edwards, a kindergarten teacher in Kentucky, says her school implemented active shooter training for teachers after the 2012 shooting at Sandy Hook and now practices “lockdown” drills several times throughout the school year. In the drill, teachers lead students into a small, enclosed space, lock the door and tell them to be completely quiet. “I’ve had some burst out crying when I first start talking about it,” says Edwards. “So you stress that it’s pretend and a drill. We make it a game by picking out the quietest one, to get them in that mode of being still and quiet. One sound and that might make want to come in.” Know what you children’s school practices, and discuss it at home.

4. But it’s not all on the school — you can help too.

Meet with local law enforcement, school administrators and even the PTA, advises Durkovich. Ask questions about what parents should do in the event of a lockdown and who’s going to keep them updated and how (the school Durkovich’s children attend sends out text messages to parents that are similar to when an Amber Alert has been issued). “Those are the types of things that schools need to have in place,” says Durkovich. “Plan for what you’re going to do with the kids and how you’re going to effectively manage your communication with parents and law enforcement.”

Megan Tatem

5. If they can run, do it in a zig-zag.

All three of the experts we spoke with agree it’s the number one way to increase your chances of surviving. “A moving target is far more difficult to shoot than a stationary one,” says Clint Emerson, a retired Navy Seal of 20 years and New York Times best-selling author of 100 Deadly Skills. His recommended technique? Running to something that could shield you from oncoming gunfire — think concrete pillars or behind a sink counter in the science lab — before sprinting to the next thing that could provide cover, until you’re out of the building. “If there is no cover, run in a zigzag motion as fast as you can to the first right-hand turn and get yourself out of sight,” says Emerson. “That makes it very difficult for the shooter to be accurate.”

6. If they can hide, hide behind something concrete.

You may not always have a choice, but if you do, avoid hiding behind things made of plastic (think bathroom stalls) or other thin materials (cabinet doors, for example). “If I’m going to hide, I’m going to hide behind things that stop bullets like trees, structural pillars and big concrete planters,” says Emerson. He adds that if you’re outside and there are vehicles like a school bus, hide on the engine end, not on the trunk end. “Bullets can rip right through that trunk and still hit you, but the engine is going to stop it,” he says.

7. If there’s nothing solid, at least hide out of sight.

Concealment could be your next best option. “That’s like hiding behind curtains, but the curtains aren’t going to stop a bullet,” says Emerson. If you’re in a room and it’s possible, “always barricade the door for extra safety,” he adds. “In a classroom, you should put filing cabinets on the same wall as the door and say, ‘Kids, let’s just slide this over.’ what’s going to happen is the shooter is going to give it some effort for a couple of minutes and then he’s going to say ‘Forget it’ and move on.”

Megan Tatem

8. When hiding, stay on hands and knees.

Whether you’re dropping down as an immediate reaction to hearing shots fired or crouching down to hide behind something, never put any vital organs against the floor. “Most bullets, when they ricochet, they follow the path of the floor,” explains Emerson. “If a bullet comes flying, I’d rather have my hands, knee or wrist hit. If you put your lungs, heart or head right against the ground, you might get a ricochet bullet passing through your body.”

9. The bathroom shouldn’t be their first choice.

Another thing that may not be possible, but if it is, avoid boxed-in spaces like bathrooms, conference rooms and movie theaters. “Anytime there’s a confined space, get out of there,” says Emerson. ” bathrooms are horrible; they don’t usually have windows and there’s nothing in there that’s going to stop a bullet.” Another tip: Stay out of doorways.

10. The adults should fight as a group.

If you can’t run or hide, you still have the option of fighting (if you’re an adult). It’s risky but, as Emerson points out, “This is probably one of the worst scenarios that you could ever imagine, so you’ve really got nothing to lose.” Consider this: “It’s the bad guy’s first time to come through those doors and take people’s lives,” says Emerson. “He’s nervous, he’s not an experienced shooter. The reality is, with some confidence and knowing what you’re going to do ahead of time, you actually have more of an advantage, especially if you’re within striking distance.”

So, how do you take down an armed killer? Emerson encourages fighting as a group. “Point out a few people and say, ‘Hey, when he comes through the door I’m going to go for the weapon, you go for the head and you go for the hips.’ It takes one person to make a move, and that gives everyone else the courage to help,” he says. “But the weapon is primary. If it comes through the door, grab it and drive it toward a wall. Then get control of the spine, the hips and the head, which will control the rest of the body.”

11. If all else fails, look for a fire extinguisher.

When you’re fighting for your life, sometimes you have to get creative. Weapons? They’re all around you. “Fire extinguishers are everywhere,” he says. “You can hit somebody over the head with it, spray their face or put chemicals in their eyes. A lot of commercial buildings have fire hoses in the fire stairwells. You can grab one and turn the pressure on full and knock a bad guy down or create distractions.”

12. Bottom line: Keep calm and carry on.

If nothing else, says Emerson, just try your best to keep everyone around you calm to avoid drawing unnecessary attention from the shooter. “Calm is just as contagious as panic,” he says. “If you panic, others will panic. You need calm, you need calculation and you need to work as a team. There’s always something you can be doing to increase your security, safety and lifespan when you’re in this type of situation.”

Megan Tatem

Former Navy SEAL Trains Cloned K-9s to Locate and Take Down School Shooters

What to Know

  • Joshua Morton, a former Navy SEAL, is training K-9s to find the source of gunfire at schools and attack the shooter
  • A school in Minnesota will be the first to receive one of the K-9s. About 10 other schools have expressed interest
  • The cost to place a dog and trained handler at a school is $125,000 per year

Even when it’s just pretend, hearing gunshots echo through a school and seeing children play dead in a hallway makes your heart race and your stomach sick. Now, a former Navy SEAL says he has the solution to stopping school shootings: He’s training dogs to find them and take them down.

“That’s what I’ve been trained to do, is to deal with these situations,” Joshua Morton told the News4 I-Team.

After five tours overseas, Morton returned home and put his skills as a K-9 handler into action. He began training police dogs to detect drugs or explosives, teaching them what he calls the Morton Method. Then he started seeing images of what weapons of war were doing here at home.

“I did not expect to see what I saw overseas, to see it in schools. But, unfortunately, it’s happening,” Morton said. “I’ve been trying to find this solution for a very long time.”

He says that solution started with finding the right dog — one he could train to run toward the sound of gunfire. He demonstrated the dog’s ability for the I-Team at a training facility outside his home in Chariton, Iowa. His friend, Jimmy, acts as the gunman, and repeatedly fires an assault rifle with blank rounds. His gunshots cue the dog that it’s time to work. Morton acts as the dog’s handler, a critical role.

“We’re not just releasing the dog and the dog’s just randomly searching the building. It’s a combo. It’s a team,” Morton said.

He says he makes the training as real as possible. His friends pose as students and run away from the gunfire. The dog is not distracted. It uses its senses of sound, smell and sight to find the right room and Jimmy holding the gun. Sometimes Jimmy wears a protective suit. Sometimes the dog wears a muzzle instead.

It definitely isn’t Jimmy the dog is after. During the demonstration, the dog aggressively attacks Jimmy once he finds him. Minutes later, without the gun, Jimmy approaches and the dog jumps up to say hello, tail wagging.

“They’re trained to deal with that specific situation,” Morton said.

The next day, Morton arranges to demonstrate the dog’s capability at Chariton High School, this time with parents and students from the town watching and participating.

“Everybody says it’s not going to happen here. That’s what everybody says and then it happens there,” said Nicci Chandler, a mother of five and substitute teacher who participated in the demonstration.

“It’s amazing just to zone everything out and go for their targets,” Chandler said.

She brought two of her children to see the dog in action and was impressed as he ran right by them. The dog also ignored Jimmy’s protective suit, deliberately left lying on the floor in the hallway, to ensure that’s not what the K-9 focused on.

The dog ran through multiple doorways, guided by Morton, then, off leash, located Jimmy — all within 20 seconds of the gunfire starting. Morton would like to see one of his dogs embedded in every school in the country.

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“I think it would be a great thing to have, no question,” Chandler said. “So, if it does happen you’re ready.”

Matt Seitz works as a sheriff’s deputy in Houston County, Minnesota. He helped Morton develop the active shooter K-9 idea.

“The school that we’re in is not vulnerable,” said Seitz, adding that he doesn’t worry about the dog attacking responding officers because by the time they arrive, an active shooting situation is usually over.

Plus, active shooters are often students or former students. Seitz says the students knowing a K-9 is there and trained to attack is a deterrent.

“Right now, in the United States the status quo outcome is, when there is an active shooter event, kids die,” Seitz said. “And we’re not status quo.”

But defeating that status quo comes with a hefty price tag: $125,000 per year for a dog and trained handler. Seitz says it’s impossible to put a value on safety.

“We’re not depending on just a locked door, we have a thinking person with you know, the thinking dog,” he said.

Morton says most dogs are not capable of grasping that level of thinking and training. When he found one that was, he started creating new ones specifically for this mission.

“Cloning allows me to be consistent,” Morton said. “Now, I know that I can tell a client, ‘Hey, I’ll have this dog ready in nine months.”

He currently has five cloned puppies in training. He gets them at 8 weeks old and says most can complete the training by the time they’re a year old. He says besides the intellect, the dogs have a suitable demeanor. They aren’t particularly interested in people, but they are friendly enough to spend their day around students.

Morton told the I-Team the disposition and personality of the Active Shooter K-9 is just as critical as the intellect. He says the dogs are friendly enough to say hello to strangers and then quickly move on without fixating on them.

“I think that that’s something that’s genetic, a dog that’s just neutral to people,” Morton said.

He first tried breeding the dogs but quickly realized many of the litters did not result in dogs with the same demeanor, creating puppies that were not suitable to be Active Shooter K-9s.

Once he found the perfect specimen, he began using a company in Texas to inject that dog’s DNA into the eggs of female dogs. The puppies are then carried and born like normal dogs.

“It’s way more effective, way more efficient,” Morton said.

Because the training and performance of these dogs is highly specialized, and they will be working around children, Morton needs to be able to guarantee their consistency and stability.

Morton says the first clone is slated to start work at a school in Minnesota in January. He’s already heard from about 10 others expressing interest once they see how that first one goes.

“Some of the logistics of who handles the dog, where the dog stays during the day and then just student safety alongside the dog are still some just question marks,” said Chariton High Assistant Principal Tim Milledge.

Milledge wonders how most schools would afford a dog and handler but says he sees the value. If they take a gunman’s attention off of students and teachers just for a few seconds, it might be the time they need to escape an active shooter.

“We want to keep our kids safe, so it’s pretty impressive what the dogs are able to do,” Milledge said.

Morton says the dogs cannot do it alone. He already has a waiting list of willing handlers who know what it’s like to face an automatic weapon: veterans.

“You can’t expect your gym teacher to do this,” Morton said. “What we’re trying to look for is people with some kind of experience dealing with an active shooter type scenario.”

In Parkland, Florida a school resource officer is criminally charged for failing to enter the building to stop an active shooter. Morton says his dogs won’t have that fear.

An Active Shooter is an individual actively engaged in killing or attempting to kill people in a confined and populated area; in most cases, active shooters use firearms(s) and there is no pattern or method to their selection of victims.

Active shooter situations are unpredictable and evolve quickly. Typically, the immediate deployment of law enforcement is required to stop the shooting and mitigate harm to victims.

Because active shooter situations are often over within 10 to 15 minutes, before law enforcement arrives on the scene, individuals must be prepared both mentally and physically to deal with an active shooter situation.

If you hear shots fired on campus or if you witness an armed person shooting or threatening people (active shooter):

Immediately choose the best way to protect your life. Very quickly, make your best determination of what is occurring and which of the options below will provide the greatest degree of security for you employing the “RUN, HIDE, or FIGHT” protocol.

RUN: Evacuate If Possible

  • If there is considerable distance between you and the gunfire/armed person, quickly move away from the sound of the gunfire/armed person. If the gunfire/armed person is in your building and it is safe to do so, run out of the building and move far away until you are in a secure place to hide.
  • Leave your belongings behind.
  • Keep your hands visible to law enforcement.
  • Take others with you, but do not stay behind because others will not go.
  • Call 911 when it is safe to do so. Do not assume that someone else has reported the incident. The information that you are able to provide law enforcement may be critical, e.g. number of shooters, physical description and identification, number and type(s) of weapons, and location of the shooter.

HIDE: Hide silently in as safe a place as possible

  • If the shooter is in close proximity and you cannot evacuate safely, hide in an area out of the armed person’s view.
  • Choose a hiding place with thicker walls and fewer windows, if possible.
  • Lock doors and barricade with furniture, if possible.
  • Turn off lights
  • Silence phones and turn off other electronics.
  • Close windows, shades and blinds, and avoid being seen from outside the room, if possible.
  • If you are outdoors and cannot RUN safely, find a place to hide that will provide protection from gunfire such as a brick wall, large trees or buildings.
  • Remain in place until you receive an “all clear” signal from Blackboard Connect.

FIGHT: Take action to disrupt or incapacitate the shooter

  • As a last resort, fight. If you cannot evacuate or hide safely and only when your life is in imminent danger, take action.
  • Attempt to incapacitate or disrupt the actions of the shooter.
  • Act with physical aggression toward the shooter.
  • Use items in your area such as fire extinguishers or chairs.
  • Throw items at the shooter if possible.
  • Call 911 when it is safe to do so.

Immediately after an incident:

  • Wait for Local Law Enforcement officers to assist you out of the building, if inside.
  • When law enforcement arrives, students and employees must display empty hands with open palms.

Note:

  • Understand that gunfire may sound artificial. Assume that any popping sound is gunfire.
  • If there are two or more persons in the same place when a violent incident begins, you should spread out in the room to avoid offering the aggressor an easy target.
  • Be mindful that violent attacks can involve any type of weapon, not just a gun. Knives, blunt objects, physical force or explosives can be just as deadly as a gun. The suggested actions provided here are applicable in any violent encounter.
  • Plan ahead: Visualize possible escape routes, including physically accessible routes for students and staff with disabilities and others with limited mobility.

Active Shooter Drills May Not Stop A School Shooting — But This Method Could

Molly Snee for NPR Molly Snee for NPR

School shootings like the recent one in Santa Clarita, Calif., have focused the nation’s attention on school safety. And schools across the U.S. are wrestling with how to prevent themselves from becoming the site of the next tragedy.

Many schools are turning to highly visible “hardened” security measures. For example, at least eight states now have laws mandating active shooter drills in schools. But there’s little research yet that shows that those drills are effective. Meanwhile, a new comprehensive report from the U.S. Secret Service underlines the agency’s previous findings that there is one safety approach that does work: threat assessment, as part of a comprehensive program of social and emotional support for students.

Active shooter drills can scare vulnerable children

A new law in Illinois requires students to participate in active shooter drills at school. The drills often involve students hiding in the classroom and sometimes evacuating the school. Some parents welcome the preparation.

“I don’t see any way that the drill can do more harm than if your child was caught up in a real situation and did not know what to do,” says Ronick Frazier, who has two daughters in Champaign, Ill., schools.

Another Champaign parent, Dianne, says she has seen the harm these drills can do. Her daughter Rory, 7, is on the autism spectrum and has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder. (We aren’t using Dianne’s full name to protect her daughter’s privacy.)

In the spring, Rory’s school had a “hard lockdown drill” in which students were told to stay in their classroom, remain silent and keep calm. Dianne says Rory came home upset and worried about bad guys with guns.

Molly Snee for NPR

“It was heartbreaking. She was screaming and yelling. She loves school, and she kept yelling, ‘I don’t want to go back. I don’t want to go back.’ ” After seeing Rory’s reaction, Dianne says she doesn’t think any kids should have to participate in drills like these.

“Fair enough,” says Melissa Brymer of the National Center for Child Traumatic Stress. “But an emergency can happen at any point in a school day.”

Brymer believes these drills can save lives, but as one recent study from Ball State University found, there’s little evidence to prove that.

The study says that’s partly because these incidents are so rare that there aren’t enough examples for social scientists to find reliable patterns in.

Child psychiatrist Steven Schlozman says researchers have collected anecdotal evidence showing that these drills can be challenging for kids with anxiety and developmental disorders, like Rory.

“Despite people being supercareful to make this a more palatable exercise for them, they still get pretty, you know, at best unnerved and at worst pretty traumatized,” Schlozman says.

Schools with lockdowns still have shootings

Meanwhile, the recent Secret Service report has shed new light on security measures such as active shooter drills.

The investigators combed databases for as many incidents as they could find in which a current or recently former student brought a weapon to a K-12 school and harmed someone. They excluded drug- or gang-related incidents. They identified 41 targeted school attacks from 2008 to 2017.

According to the report, 83% of the attacks were over in five minutes or less. And 68% of the schools already had a lockdown procedure in place — making it the most common security measure among schools in the report. Of course, that doesn’t necessarily mean a lockdown didn’t limit the scope of an attack.

It’s also worth noting, since much of the concern over lockdown drills looks at their impact on the youngest children, that only one of the targeted attacks in the report took place at an elementary school.

The report’s lead author, Lina Alathari, says rather than focusing solely on what happens after an attack begins, schools need a much more comprehensive approach, emphasizing “multidisciplinary” prevention in the years, months and days before a student actually shows up at school with a weapon. That means bringing together teachers, administrators and mental health professionals, along with law enforcement if needed.

That may be surprising coming from an agency known for its metal detector sweeps and guys with the earpieces. But Alathari says the bulk of what the Secret Service does involves prevention and threat assessment.

She defines threat assessment as a proactive approach in which schools “identify students who are doing concerning behavior or may be in distress and getting them the help they need before they even resort to violence as an option.”

Molly Snee for NPR

One common source of distress, according to the report, is bullying and ostracism. Four out of five of these attackers were bullied at school, and in most cases the bullying was severe and took place over a long time period. Attackers were much more likely to be victims than perpetrators of bullying, although that was fairly common as well.

In the aftermath of the Columbine attack in 1999, in which two Colorado students killed 13 people at their high school and injured more than 20 others before taking their own lives, the Secret Service published its first review of similar incidents. Back then, 71% of attackers had been bullied. Since then, Alathari says, “it’s interesting”: Despite two decades of anti-bullying legislation, anti-bullying assemblies and anti-bullying curricula in schools, today the incidence is even higher.

“Assess the climate of your school,” she says to school leaders. “What is the perception of bullying? What kind of intervention is taking place?”

Alathari says there is some evidence that a better school climate can directly save lives.

Alathari found that 9 out of 10 attackers give a warning sign in the form of concerning or threatening statements. The report includes anecdotes of such warnings, including this one:

tweeted, “It won’t last…It’ll never last” and texted his ex-girlfriend asking her to meet after school so he could say goodbye. He also sent her a Facebook message that said, “read my messages tomorrow from 7:15 to 12:30.” The attacker posted on Instagram, “Tell my mom I love her,” and included an emoji image of a gun.”

Those messages came from a 15-year-old student who fatally shot four of his classmates and injured one other in his high school cafeteria, before killing himself.

But why don’t people report these warning signs? Over a decade ago, the Secret Service conducted a small study in which it talked to “bystanders” — students who had heard warnings from a fellow student before a planned attack. In six cases a shooting was prevented, and in a further nine cases a shooting happened.

In the bystander report, students who came forward told investigators they did so because they had a strong relationship with at least one adult at the school and they thought their concerns would be taken seriously. Students who did not come forward said that they thought the school would not take appropriate steps or they would get in trouble themselves.

Like the Ball State study, Alathari emphasizes that targeted attacks of this kind are extremely rare. The new report excluded attacks that seemed to be related to drugs, gang violence or disputes that merely spilled over onto school property. They were left with an average of four shootings or stabbings per year across hundreds of thousands of schools, and the report found no upward trend in the frequency or severity of attacks over time. That’s yet another reason, she says, to focus on prevention efforts that can improve the school climate overall — whether or not the worst-case scenario happens one day.